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Story by Christian DeVries | Freelance Writer | Heifer International
Photos by Russ Powell | Freelance Photographer | Heifer International

In the traditionally male dominated Magar ethnic group in Nepal, women stayed inside their homes, cooked, cleaned and cared for their families. Thanks to Heifer’s trainings these women are now actively involved in their community. They even help with building roads and dykes. This has resulted in making the women more united, both financially and emotionally. “Because we are part of this project, we have a lot more freedom than before,” said Amrita Pun.

Her husband Narjaat agrees, “I think women, a couple years ago, were very backward. They were less confident and more oppressed by their families, but now with the group and the group fund they can do things on their own that will have a positive effect on families.” The trainings Amrita received and the knowledge she gained through the Rapti Women Empowerment Project changed how Narjaat saw her. She is now the president of Chamatkar Group. “I feel like her capacity to make decisions and lead people has increased, so I look at her differently,” he said. “I also feel she has become much smarter.” Sharing the decision making has actually been a great relief. “Before the entire burden of providing for the family was on me,” he said.

Today Amrita and Narjaat live in Fattepur village, Banke district with their three sons: Arjun, 24, Ukesh, 20, Ganesh, 18; daughter Gita, 22; and two grandchildren.

The first time Amrita and her neighbors heard about Heifer they were skeptical. They worried that this was too good to be true. “We had heard about a couple of organizations that took people’s money and ran away,” said Amrita. Once they started talking to Heifer’s staff, they quickly realized that Heifer was special.

Many of the women weren’t allowed to participate in the beginning. Amrita’s sister’s family wasn’t as accepting as Narjaat. “Because my husband was a social person it was easier for me to become part of this project,” she said. Fortunately, Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development training had a big impact on men’s attitudes in Fattepur. After they participated in the Gender and Justice training the men became more open and involved in the project.

Transformation: From Recipient to Donor
Amrita still remembers the day in November 2008 when she received her goats. “It was the monsoon season but it was a sunny day,” she said. Each family received two goats and one Ajmeri buck was given to each of the three groups. Families also received a variety of vegetables seeds, including spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant and radishes, as well as wheat seeds and tree saplings.

Amrita worried about Passing on the Gift®. It was a big commitment, but after completing her pass-on she realized how great it felt to be a donor and not just a recipient. “I think it is because when you give people the things they need, they do better,” said Amrita. “Giving rice to a person who is already full isn’t going to matter, but giving rice to someone who is hungry is really going to help that person out a lot.”

She understands what it means to be poor and hungry. Before the project started Amrita and Narjaat earned $146 per year, or just $0.40 a day. Most of their money was earned working for others and occasionally selling a goat. They had a business making roofing tiles, but had to stop when they ran out of money to buy the raw materials.

They have been able to sell a lot of goats over the past four years, thanks to Heifer’s trainings. They currently have two water buffalo, two calves and three goats. They used to have 10 goats, but sold seven in October 2012. Amrita and Narjaat restarted their roofing tile business two years ago. They now earn around $2,592 a year, or $7.10 each day. That’s more than 18 times what they were earning just four years ago.

More Money Leads to a Better Life
Their additional income allowed them to diversify their farm by purchasing a banana plantation. Amrita applies manure from her animals to her rice field every six months. “Everything has increased,” she said. From crops to vegetables, all are growing strong, and, according to her taste, better than the store-bought ones. Amrita’s rice harvest has almost doubled from 881 pounds to 1,543 pounds.

The family has purchased a hand-powered water pump and rebuilt their home three years ago. Formerly a simple mud-wall home, it is now made from strong bricks and cement.

With more fruits, vegetables and animals available to them, the family’s diet has improved. Before the project they ate meat every month or two. Now they enjoy meat four or five times a month. “Because we have vegetables growing in our backyard we don’t have to spend as much money,” said Amrita. As their nutrition has improved, so has their health. “It’s better than before,” said Amrita. Her children were sick more often before the project, but now they eat balanced meals and are ill less often. Furthermore, they can afford to visit the medical clinic, when necessary.

Amrita has always wanted her children to get a good education. In the past, they borrowed money from a loan shark at 60 percent interest so their children could go to school. Now, paying for school tuition and supplies is much easier. “If we hadn’t become part of this group, with access to all of this money, we wouldn’t have been able to send all four kids to school,” said Amrita. “We have access to capital that we could never have gotten before,” added Narjaat.

Contribute to a family's goat business in Nepal.

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Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.